Archive for May, 2013

May
31st 2013
Disgruntled Union Claims about Dougco Innovation Add Up to Politics, Not Truth

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

It’s Friday! Which means it must be time to provide some more clarity on the bold innovations taking place in Douglas County. Today provides a great opportunity to highlight a fairly balanced 9News story, making sure to emphasize and elaborate on some key points and add one or two others that may have been left out for sake of time.

The premise of the report is an unusually high number of teachers leaving DCSD’s Chaparral High School. Two teachers and union members — including one who served on DCFT’s 2012 negotiation team — say they are departing for greener pastures because of an “adversarial” relationship with the central administration, particularly related to the development of a teacher evaluation system:

“Teachers were not a part of the process. We did not collaborate. We were not a part of the conversation of what was going to be included in it,” [Chaparral teacher and DCFT negotiator Carlye] Holladay said.

The first issue to address is the entire perception that Chaparral is representative of some massive teacher walkout. The 9News story showed a slide of district figures that indicate teacher turnover is only up ever so slightly, in line with last year’s numbers. Given the scope of changes, that’s rather remarkable. But the next slide in the presentation also tells more of the story: Continue Reading »

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May
30th 2013
Identifying the Good Kind of Disruption in (Colorado) Blended Learning Innovation

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & High School & Innovation and Reform & Middle School & Online Schools & Research & State Legislature & Teachers

When is it okay to be disruptive in class? Most teachers rightly would frown on the idea of little whelps like me acting out or speaking out of turn when a lecture or other class instructional activity is taking place. But disruptive innovation via the blended learning strategy is an entirely different matter. I’m talking about the future!

In recent weeks I’ve introduced you to an innovative idea to provide oversight of expanded access to digital learning opportunities in Colorado, explained why the school finance tax proposal coming to a ballot near you missed the chance to break out of the 20th century, and highlighted how blended learning models can benefit teachers. But as usual, the good folks at the Clayton Christensen (formerly known as Innosight) Institute now have me thinking even a little more deeply how technology, policy, and practice very well could merge to transform the way learning takes place.

Hats off to Christensen, Michael Horn, and Heather Staker for their new paper, Is K-12 blended learning disruptive? An introduction to the theory of hybrids. And I’m not talking about cars that can run on different types of energy. The authors make an interesting case for two different kinds of blended learning models, based on their potential to foster long-term change: Continue Reading »

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May
29th 2013
Ray of Hope for True School Finance Reform in Post-Lobato Lawsuit Landscape

Posted under Courts & Denver & Innovation and Reform & Research & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Apologies to all if I seem a little off-kilter today. You see, it’s finally sunk in that for the first time I can remember, there is a world of Colorado education without a Lobato funding adequacy lawsuit. A few months ago, as the two sides argued their respective cases before the state Supreme Court justices, I remarked how we need school finance reform, not a constitutional crisis. And yesterday’s ruling gives us that helpful reprieve.

I can understand, no doubt, why emotions are running high for some plaintiffs who expended so much time and energy fighting to sway the judges into ordering more education funds from the state tax coffers. (Then again, there’s not so much sympathy for the school boards that voted to spend taxpayer dollars suing for more tax dollars and forcing the state to spend money to defend the case. How many of these school districts contributed funds, and how much?)

As Professor Joshua Dunn noted in a radio conversation yesterday, one can only wonder what sort of success the Lobato plaintiff team might have had instead spending the past 8 years focused on improving education without expecting the judiciary to give perceived solutions to authentic problems. I use the word “perceived” for a reason. Continue Reading »

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May
28th 2013
Scholarship Tax Credits Gain in Popularity? Sounds Like a Win-Win-Win for Colorado

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature & Tax Credits

You may have heard old adages like “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Well, here comes the young whippersnapper again, questioning longstanding wisdom. When it comes to tax credits for private school choice, I have to say the old adages just don’t work. So the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick points out on a new posting.

Bedrick looks at states with scholarship tax credit (STC) programs before 2010 that later expanded those programs. He compares eight legislative votes in four different states, before and after, and finds that the vote margin grew significantly and dramatically in all but one case. The Cato analyst concludes: Continue Reading »

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May
24th 2013
Disputed Dougco Evaluations? Don’t Turn Up the Heat, Just Share All the Facts

Posted under Education Politics & Elementary School & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & Principals & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Update, 5/28: I took off for the long holiday weekend, and came back to learn that Our Colorado News had updated the article on the Trailblazer teacher evaluation controversy, addressing some of the shortcomings I identified. I’d like to thank them for making an effort to improve the story.

If you can’t stifle dramatic local innovation at the legislature, there’s always the route of misleading newspaper articles. When it comes to the bold transformational changes going on in Douglas County, and the overheated political opposition that goes along for the ride, you almost have to expect it.

The local journalists at Our Colorado News have picked up the slack, publishing a story rife with relevant omissions to try to convey a conveniently crafted political message:

Trailblazer Elementary School Principal Linda Schneider says 70 percent of her teachers are “highly effective” under the Douglas County School District’s new evaluation system.

The district questions that finding, and is summoning all the school’s teachers for a second, independent review….

District-wide, about 15 percent of teachers are rated “highly effective,” according to information provided by DCSD.

Under the evaluations, each teacher is assigned a rating ranging from “highly effective” to “ineffective” that is tied to pay increases. “Highly effectives” could get a substantial raise, while “ineffectives” likely won’t see increases.

Continue Reading »

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May
23rd 2013
Passing Thoughts: Charters Well Established Part of Colorado’s Education Landscape

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice

According to my stressed-out-looking Education Policy Center friends, we are fast approaching the 20th anniversary of Colorado officially approving charter schools as a means of public school choice. At the time, we were the third state to do so (after Minnesota and California). Today, 42 states have some form of a charter school law. As being one of the pioneers, it’s great to see Colorado’s charter law today ranks among the strongest nationwide.

Not far behind us was Arizona, where charters became law of the land in 1994. Yesterday the Goldwater Institute’s Jonathan Butcher took the opportunity to explain why lawmakers in his state should continue to preserve charter freedoms while also pointing out improvements the state could make to ensure equity. Butcher’s accompanying new report also provides a detailed picture of the growth made in Arizona’s charter sector and the results their students have achieved. Continue Reading »

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May
21st 2013
That’s One Small Step for Digital Learning and Quality Options for Colorado Students

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Rural Schools & State Board of Education & State Legislature

Has Colorado taken another step toward providing students with greater choice and opportunity through access to digital learning options? If so, how big and effective a step has been taken? Let’s look at a piece of education legislation that was overshadowed by the likes of the “Future School Finance Act” and others, Senate Bill 139.

A recent online column by Reilly Pharo of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Matt Samelson shares an overview of SB 139′s key provisions: Continue Reading »

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May
16th 2013
Who Would Game the System to Deprive Needy Students of More Choices?

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

You may not be surprised to hear that this little tyke enjoys games as much as the next kid. Want to challenge me to a contest of Checkers — or better yet, use those same Checkers in a game of Connect Four? Maybe you just want to get me outside during the summer so I can play Hide-and-Seek or Kick the Can. Perhaps you can appreciate my parents trying to keep me occupied at a busy restaurant with something old-fashioned like Tic Tac Toe, or better yet, a chance at Angry Birds on my dad’s phone.

Games are great and can be lots of fun. But gaming the system to hurt students? That’s just wrong.

A quick stop today over at Jay Greene’s always-enlightening blog (I have to say that ever since he told everyone I have “one of the best education blogs, period”) led me to two separate stories with an intertwining theme: How students with disabilities are counted can limit access to educational options OR can malign programs and schools that provide those opportunities. Very telling stuff. Continue Reading »

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May
14th 2013
Surprise! Perpetuating Power Top Priority for Teachers Union Leaders in Adams 12

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

After a lot of recent attention, it seems to have grown awfully quiet this month in the Adams 12 school district. Two of four scheduled negotiation sessions with teachers union officials already have taken place, but beyond that it’s left to the open-ended curiosity of a perpetually precocious 5-year-old to try to guess what’s taking place. If the Colorado Education Association (CEA) mother ship had let the District Twelve Educators Association (DTEA) accept the board’s offer of open negotiations, we might have more than a clue.

Still, we could take a stab at what the respective sides might be fighting hard for behind closed doors. An April 19 DTEA memo set forth the topics proposed for discussion. Kept out of the (properly hygienic, smoke-free) back rooms, I can only wonder what sort of progress might have been made in the direction of cutting back or ending tax-funded union release time, or the board’s general push toward greater fiscal responsibility.

On the other hand, union leaders want to undo the 1.5% shift in teacher pay to cover their guaranteed retirement benefits (aka PERA), even if they can’t explain how that will be accomplished without asking more of parents and/or having to lay off some teachers. Interestingly, though, the DTEA memo listed as the last point under their proposals: “Extending the contract to 2018.” In an email soliciting their members to provide bargaining input on an online survey, DTEA leaders also noted:

As you take the survey, know that our team already has the contract extension as our top priority. That’s why it’s not on the survey and why we didn’t ask you about it.

Continue Reading »

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May
13th 2013
International Student Learning Comparisons Remind Why Dougco Is Raising Bar

Posted under Denver & Foreign Countries & Grades and Standards & High School & Innovation and Reform & International & Parents & Public Charter Schools & Research & Suburban Schools

When I’m running a race, no matter how short my little legs may be, I don’t want to be left in the middle of the pack: I want to break the tape first… I want to WIN!! In America, including Colorado, we tend to think our suburban schools serving middle-class students are largely doing just fine. But that all depends on your perspective and your point of comparison.

It’s well past time to think beyond the school district next door or across the state. A group called America Achieves just released a report titled “Middle Class or Middle of the Pack” that ought to help wake up some people. Many of the chief excuses for America’s humdrum or weak showing on international tests just sort of melt away:

Many assume that poverty in America is pulling down the overall U.S. scores, but when you divide each nation into socio-economic quarters, you can see that even America’s middle class students are falling behind not only students of comparable advantage but also more disadvantaged students in several other countries.

Continue Reading »

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